Dusting Off the Old Ones was published in 1961 by W. B. Clarke, Miles City, Montana.
How the Open Range Was Controlled Before the Homesteader Took Over
Our story this week will be concerning a method used by stockmen to obtain title to government land without the necessity of homesteading or doing the required improvements and work necessary to perfect a title under the desert land laws. This was done by the use of land scrip or lieu selections. The dictionary gives the definition of "scrip" as: "A writing; certificate or other document showing the right to something, as stock or a fractional share of stock; an allotment of land." It must be remembered that throughout this entire country prior to 1900, there were very few fences and those were mostly along the river bottoms, and once in a while along a creek. Those were the days of the open range, and cattlemen, horsemen and sheepmen vied with each other for the control of these lands. In 1897, Congress passed a law making it possible for a railroad company which had been granted a land grant, or any other concern which had rights to land that might fall within a public forest reserve to relinquish the tract within this reservation to the goverment and select in lieu thereof a tract of land open to settlement. This opened the way for stockmen to purchase these rights to select land out in the open range, even on unsurveyed land. It must be remembered that at the turn of the century there were very few townships surveyed in Eastern Montana. Anyone desiring to get control of a good spring or a large water hole that was on the public range could purchase through a land broker this right that we have just mentioned which was called scrip. The price ran all the way from $2.50 to $10 and $15 an acre. The stockman would then locate this scrip on a tract of land containing water, and thus control a goodly amount of range by virtue of controlling the water. When the scrip was located on unsurveyed land, it was necessary that a surveyor be employed to mark the boundaries, and this was usually done by erecting monuments or mounds of stone on which identifying inscriptions were made. Then when the land was surveyed, it was necessary to have these metes and bounds descriptions adjusted to the correct legal description. This filing of scrip and grabbing of the water holes led to a great deal of animosity between the various flockmasters and was the cause of several range war incidents.